Flannery on fires, foreigners and the way ahead

Climate Spectator talks with Dr Tim Flannery about rebuilding the Climate Council, nee commission; support for the Council from UK conservatives; and why Abbott was wrong on the bushfires.

*Part two, Mr Geothermal becomes Mr Solar, November 28

Climate councillor Tim Flannery has spoken about how conservative elements in nations abroad have dipped into their pocketbooks and plush leather purses to ensure Australia doesn’t fall off the climate horse.

In part one of a two-part video interview with Climate Spectator, above, Dr Flannery said the volunteer Climate Council, born out of the ashes of the Coalition-culled Climate Commission, had raised around $1.2 million, with some surprising donations coming from offshore.

 “There is general dismay at it (overseas),” he said.

“We’ve had support actually from the conservative end of politics in the United Kingdom with various members of parliament and lords actually giving us financial contributions. 

“We’ve had financial – these are small ones, you know – small financial contributions from the US and Europe as well.  And people make the point that this is our common atmosphere and we need to safeguard it by making sure that Australia, which is the largest per capita polluter among developed countries… that the people of Australia understand what’s at stake.”

The United Kingdom has a $6.7 billion national green bank, even though its wind and solar resources are far worse than Australia, a bipartisan emissions reduction target of 80 per cent by 2050, and a renewable energy target of 15 per cent by 2020.

The United States has a patchwork of carbon trading schemes across the country, led by California’s ETS, and the recently announced Climate Action Plan is expected to make a big dint in already falling emissions via fossil fuel regulation and energy efficiency measures.

The donations add weight to the opinion that Australia’s reputation is coming under increasing scrutiny from the climate-concerned global community, not so much due to the undoing of the carbon price, which will be replaced with a new, potentially credible scheme of abatement auctions but, moreso, around decisions to trash relatively inexpensive climate bodies, such as the commission, the soon-to-be-dismantled policy advisory body the Climate Change Authority, and the ‘budget-positive’ Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Last month’s NSW bushfires added to the international murmurs, when Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s statements delinking the unseasonal blazes from climate changes saw him exchanging barbs with UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.

And, more recently, Australia was lumped among the ‘bad boys’ of UN climate talks in Poland for its opposition to any new aid deals for developing countries, stating such measures came under the banner of “socialism masquerading as environmentalism”.

“Well, look, at the Climate Council we don’t comment on policy because we want to stay out of politics, but we will say when our politicians get it wrong and in [that] case our prime minister was absolutely and categorically wrong,” Flannery said.

“What we know is that in Australia we are seeing a warming and drying trend that’s manifesting in south eastern Australia and it’s having a direct influence on bushfires, as common sense would tell you. So, that’s a very clear case. In our report that we’ll be bringing out next month we’ll fill in the details in that.”

But while Australia may look shaky, Flannery – who confidently declares in the second part of the interview that climate sceptics are losing the political battle – says the world at large has finally tilted in the right direction, citing “enormous, unanticipated” advances in the US and China.

“In the US, emissions have declined ever since 2008 and are now about 8 per cent below what they were at their peak.  That’s a massive achievement and that’s putting the US well on track to reach its target of minus 17 per cent by 2020, and that’s come about through a few things.

“One is the substitution of gas for coal in the electricity sector. Another is the new fuel efficiency standards that President Obama brought forward and of course the California Emissions Trading Scheme, an ETS, will have an impact as well, growing impact in future. In China things have been even more dramatic...

**For more Climate TV videos, visit the bottom of the Climate Spectator homepage.